Kate sat at the end of the long coffee bar, toward the back by the restrooms and old public phones that were no longer in service. She crossed her legs, one over the other, not caring she may be giving off a total nervous-breakdown kind of vibe. She stared into the disappearing foam of her sad cold Cappuccino. Normally, the European-style café only sat twenty on its busiest night. Ten along the bar. Another ten at the tiny circular bistro tabletops. But due to an unexpected afternoon downpour, there had to be over thirty people. Everyone wedged and crammed into every nook and cranny, seeking shelter. The smell of damp earth mixed in with gourmet coffees, steamed milk, teas and assorted baked pastries, took Kate back to the afternoon when she first found this charming little Upper Westside getaway and thought her life had taken a turn for the better.
It was almost two years to the day. The rain that afternoon was coming down exceptionally hard. Kate remembered being lucky enough to have managed a seat at the bar just as the place got slammed with unexpected patrons. She recalls the tall man with salt-and-pepper hair in blue jeans and a designer shirt sitting in a relaxed pose on a stool adjacent hers. He had placed his New Yorker down on the sticky counter and attempted to get the barista’s attention with no success. Along the same sticky counter, Kate was paging through her Real Simple magazine, looking for the article “Creating Your Own Place of Peace” the previous issue had promised.
With the attendant finally back behind the counter the gentleman was able to order. “Café Au Lait and a croissant, please,” he said while noticing how little Kate was enjoying the murky lemon-water, that tried to pass for tea.
“Sorry to interrupt. But I’ve always believed, that behind every tea drinker is a coffee lover waiting to come out.” She remembers how he felt he must intervene, lifting his empty Cappuccino cup to tempt her.
“Are you buying?” She had responded with a shy grin that surprised even her. Like someone who was unsure of what to say, but too curious to pass up the opportunity. Soon the watered-down glass of tea was cast aside and Kate was taking the first sip of foam-filled Capuccino to her lips. And so coffee had given birth to hours of effortless conversations and an unplanned connection two years ago.
It was this same seasoned gentleman, who now kept Kate waiting for over two hours in the same crowded coffee shop. The people were so many and the noise so much, that at one point Kate heard all the conversations intersect into one chaotic melody of murmurs; occasionally muffled by the sounds of the Espresso machines and heavy raindrops on glass window panes. The day was turning out to be a totally wasted Saturday. For the first hour or so, she excused his lateness on account of bad weather. After the second hour she fed herself stories of car accidents, along with a very late brunch consisting of a flaky croissant, an apple tart and a cool Italian soda.
But it had become impossible for her to continue down the road of understanding, so she marched straight for the phones. Even if he wasn’t home, she’d be sure to leave a piece of her mind on his answering machine. “…and don’t forget to leave your message after the third beep. Beeeppp… Beeeppp…” Kate threw the receiver down before the third beep. She stared at a neon sign above the phone that blinked the word “Paris” with a crude sketch of the EiffelTowerascending between the “a” and the “r”. How wonderful would it be to get away from it all? To travel and discover new places, with new people and different faces? Paris!
Behind her a man whispered something she couldn’t make out over all the noise. The man deliberately repeated himself, “Excuse me, are you finished with the phone? I need to make a quick call.”
Kate was startled to realize the man behind her was addressing her. “I’m sorry. I didn’t hear you. What did you say?”
The man in a nicely tailored suit with briefcase in hand, was captivated by her face; so much so that he’d forgotten the phone call he was trying to make to his office.
“Are you okay?” He asked carefully , in order to not seem too forward.
“I’m sorry. I’m in your way. You need to use the phone, right?” Kate stepped away.
“Actually, I can call later. Will you join me for some tea?” The mention of tea took her back to the days she use to sit on stools, alone, relaxed—sometimes reading a magazine, other times writing her sister letters. But never did she sit waiting for hours on end for anyone.
“Thank you, but I have to get going, I’ve gotta be somewhere.” She humbly lied and made her way through the smoke-filled crowd that still cowered from the rain.
She grabbed her sweater off the stool and pushed her way out the double doors. Outside, the raindrops were like tiny traces of mist as the sun began showing its brilliance through the tall New York skyline. Kate stood confident and tall at the edge of the curb, waving her long, thin arms to hail a cab. After several troublesome minutes of waving and screaming out “Cab” she finally managed one.
“La Guardia Airport, please”, she instructed looking through her purse for cab fare.
“Where’re you off to, Miss?” asked the cabby, trying to make polite conversation.
“I’m going to Paris.” She exclaimed with total affirmation in her voice. She knew she had to stand in line to get her ticket and was prepared to pay the premium price associated with last-minute purchases. She’d have to exchange currency and book a hotel, perhaps even rent a car—necessities of traveling she was fully ready to face. She daydreamed about the Champs D’ellysses, which she’d only seen on the Travel Channel. She enjoyed the freedom of her choice with a broad smile. She rehearsed the message she would leave on his machine later that night when she called Mr. Salt-and-Pepper of two years and drop him.